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domingo, 29 de abril de 2007

Sleeping together just one night by Ana Quiroga (Dormir juntos una noche)

Agustina watched through the window as the rain fell, unexpected, heavy, full of provocations. Ernesto was about to take another mouthful of food but stopped and smiled:
‘Would you believe it?’ he said, gazing into the distance. ‘Let’s hope it doesn’t spoil our trip. I told my aunt that no matter what happened we’d ...’
‘It’s not that bad, just a summer shower...’

All around them the rattle of forks and stifled laughter could be heard and Agustina’s face felt sore, her skin was taut after a day in the sun, she felt a fever slowly crawling up her arms and legs. It was the first time she had ever come here How long had they been speaking? Ernesto had told her how pretty she was several times, and that he had been thinking about her since the day they had met three years before. And that he couldn’t believe it. At last. At last, just when she had decided that never again. Just now. How could she tell Ernesto to call off his trip and stay with her, and spend the night with her?
‘Agustina, are you alright?’
‘No, not really. Well, I’m running a bit of a temperature…’
‘Not exactly. I don’t know. I spent the day in the sun…’
Would she have the courage to beg him not to leave and to allow her to stay at his side? It was raining. It was raining heavily. She saw the reflection of a flash of lightning. Or she thought she did. They were sitting at the back of the room. They had walked between the tables and the voices and the fish on china plates. She couldn’t think of a really convincing reason. He had already arranged everything with his aunt. He would have say something to the woman. Was she very elderly? What was the cancer she said she had? Poor old woman, while she on the other hand…
‘Do you want me to take you to the doctor?’
‘No, it’s nothing. I’ll take an aspirin and I’ll feel better in a while. The thing is… - a tear was just about to trickle down one of her cheeks. Fortunately, she was able to control herself. She smiled. Her open mouth revealed her teeth. She shouldn’t allow herself to cry on their first meeting.
They had had sex. It had been strange, very strange, as if it hadn’t actually been their first time together. Agustina was so excited at the synchronised movement of hands and kisses and caresses, just there, like that, as long it takes, and at not feeling ashamed and at revealing her nakedness without complications, so strange. Ernesto was astonished and told her so, even by the way you walk naked around my house, as if you’d done so at other times, before …
It was simple. All she had to say was Ernesto, don’t leave me, please, not tonight, don’t leave me. But this particular night was the first and it wasn’t a good idea to be so clinging from the very first day. How could she explain to him? How could she say to him I too have been thinking about you all the time? If I didn’t answer your calls, if I didn’t reply to your messages, it was merely because I was afraid, I had a dreadful fear of you meaning something to me, of beginning again, once more, along that sad path of dependence. Is my temperature very high?
‘Are you really not sad that I’m leaving?’
‘No, not at all...’
‘It’s just that I didn’t know, I couldn’t have known. And my poor aunt has been asking me to take her for so long. She wants to see her husband’s grave. She says it’s bound to be the last time… it breaks your heart to hear her speak like that.’
Why did you only ever call me and never come to see me? What stopped you? Why did you allow for the fact that I might think your calls were not very important for you? How often did you call? Often enough for me to know, and not to forget, for you to return to my thoughts over and over again?
‘Now we have met, I wouldn’t want us to part ever again. It’s just what I was telling you a while ago. I never knew what to do about you. You never answered. I swear I even went as far as to think you were going to hate me because I was too obsessive...
‘No, I…’
‘Every single time my brother, the one who lives opposite you, used to say “So? What are you waiting for?” He knows I’m crazy about you. I saw you and I knew. They all know at home. Even my mother asks me how are things coming along with that girl.’
How could she tell him? How could she tell him that a distant fear was eating away at her and that she didn’t know, couldn’t be sure whether she wanted to be by herself that night? Was it really a question of wanting? She had taken it for granted, the two of them, together, locked in an embrace, all night long, all night, she’d been thinking about that during his caresses and her desire, they would sleep back to back, grandmother, do you remember that night, the house was so immense and my body shivered among so many rooms, I must have been running some sort of temperature and seven years old, or six, and you carried me to your bed and you turned over and I smelt your perfume and we stayed together all night long driving away my anguish? How can I say to him don’t leave me alone in my bed? Where was my mother that night?
‘Did you hear that clap of thunder?’ said Ernesto. ‘What a storm!’
‘Strange that it should rain so much in summer. It’ll probably stop any minute.’
‘As a boy I was afraid of the thunder.’
‘It used to give me a thrill, I liked it but it left me feeling sort of melancholic…’
‘I’m worried about having to travel in this rain. We were planning to leave at four in the morning. Let’s hope that by then…’
How could she tell Ernesto that she seemed to be melancholic now, melancholic for that night protected by her grandmother. And then what had happened? When once more, suddenly and for ever, they had deserted her? How could she possibly tell him, all at once, all together, if they were only just beginning? Had she told her parents she was going to be the standard bearer? Had she insisted that they go and see her? And there were grenadiers from the Cathedral to the Cabildo1 and behind them all the Mayor and the bishops and rosettes on the uniforms of the other standard bearers, their flags held aloft, how heavy they are, how long the speeches on this endless frosty morning of parades and stealthy glances over to where they should be standing, why has nobody come to see me? Ernesto, how can I tell him that that morning a bird had crapped on her blue tie and she was so upset and shaken when the escorts, her own classmates, began to laugh? How come nobody saw me? Where can that photo taken amidst the flashes be, the one of the mayor greeting me by a table laden with hot chocolate?
‘It looks like more thunder. I don’t remember another summer storm like this one. My aunt must be getting very worried. More dessert? Coffee?’
How can I tell Ernesto please don’t go? There was still coffee to be drunk, the bill to be paid and the drive back to her place. Should she tell him gently? How could she say to him I loved him, I swear Ernesto, just twenty-three years old, I had thought about him every day for many years and that day on the way home with the car swerving on that bend and the engine burning and that instant of the approach of death, I was dying Ernesto, I was dying and all I could think about was him, I don’t want to stop seeing him, and the blows and the body and the head searing with memories and then rain, it was raining too that midday, the car standing in a pool of stagnant water and the windows smashed and the smell of burning oil, and running, how it rained, how many days of rain that time, and vanishing and waking in a private room in a clinic in the gloom of the siesta, where am I, why am I alone, I want him to come, where is he, you’ve slept for two days, he’s playing tennis? Did you hear that Ernesto?: tennis, just like every Friday.
‘And the business with my aunt was pretty hard to take because she’s always lived with us. She was widowed very young and came to live with us, I love her as if… Ah, here comes the waiter, I’d better pay…’
How could she tell Ernesto she couldn’t stay alone again? How could he understand her? Was he listening to her? Did things matter to him? Was it worth asking him to stay? Would she have the courage? At the last minute? She didn’t want to get up from the table, the night was just beginning. They took the lift down two floors to the car park. The dark blue car.
‘And just imagine... hang on, let me find the ticket for the car… here it is. My brother will be so happy. I was thinking that if you come with us next weekend it would be great, because my mother wants to meet you too. She’s a wonderful woman, you’ll see, not at all difficult.’
Ernesto carefully drove the car up the ramp. Outside the violence of the wind and the rain took them by surprise. They drove the two blocks to the avenue very slowly. The cars were moving slowly, not much could be seen. Ernesto was restless, he put some music on.
‘I’ll drop you off, go home quickly and call my parents who are with my aunt and are bound to be worried. You’re all by yourself today, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, as I told you. My sister is in Miramar and my parents are in the south.’
‘You’re not afraid I imagine...’
Another smile. How could she tell him that in the rain the fear had grown enormously and that now she didn’t even have the strength to speak and on that occasion, after so much anaesthesia, with the nurse standing at the door of a house in the suburbs, to call a taxi, 'she is very ill, please drive her to this address'? How could she tell him that she could only see her life as a series of desertions and that, however absurd or incomprehensible it may sound, he was not to leave her tonight, please, perhaps it was the rain, the violence of the lightning and the crack oif thunder, how could she tell him that all she wanted was for them to sleep together that night, that he shouldn’t worry, that she was brave, that it wasn’t a question of a whim, that her skin or the fever or a bolt of lightning piercing her had struck her right there? How could she tell him that afternoon in a café on Avenida Garay, with him calmly laying out point by point the reasons why their child should not be born? Is five years too short a time at a woman’s side not to be able to decide yet?
On the radio someone was singing:

I don’t care if you don’t love me
I need to know that I’m alive
All I ask is
for us to sleep together tonight

Was that it? Was it so vulgar, the stickiness of bodies, the mingling perspiration?
She said goodbye with the promise that they would speak in four days, as soon as he was back. She went up the three floors and entered her room. She was so tired. She washed her hands and took an aspirin and then slowly crawled between the sheets, fully dressed. Alone in bed, she saw the reflection of more lightning announcing more thunder and she stayed awake hovering on the edge of sleep and the storm until dawn brought back to her the departure of another boyfriend. How long had it been? How long since he had gone without ever ringing her again, not even once? She looked at the rain still falling heavily. Better to be alone, a little longer, with her solitude and no unpleasant surprises, without complications. It would be easy not to answer the telephone for a few days and not reply to the messages on the answering machine. How could she explain it all to Ernesto? How could she explain to him about moments in which all one’s life is caught up in a whine that comes from years back and that is begging for a hug and to be still, don’t say a word because it’ll pass and then we’ll see who’ll stop me? Why did it have to rain today of all days, to rain like this, why did you leave, what was the reason for so much intimacy between bodies if you were going to leave me, why the fever? How could she tell Ernesto, beautiful Ernesto, I still don’t know which desertions hurt most, the inexplicable ones of childhood and mystery or those which can be explained sensibly by convenience and the years?

Ernesto, how can I tell you not to insist, it’s pointless you calling, everything was fine, it’s just that I’m exhausted by so much disregard and the sadness is there, sometimes it’s reborn; don’t think about where you went wrong Ernesto, it’s just that at times it’s like that, it depends on just one night, on sleeping together just one night.

1 Translator’s note: the Cabildo was the city assembly in colonial times in Latin American cities. The building was usually located opposite the government house and near the cathedral, and is still an important landmark in the present day’

Translated by Lawrence Wheeler